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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 28 August 2014 by Tim Ingram

A Kentish Get-together

The East Kent Group of the AGS is as mixed as any with members from such diverse professions as teachers, doctors, engineers, gardeners and the odd nurseryman. This August we got together for a social occasion at the garden made by Sylvie Buat Ménard and David Sayers, respectively our Chairlady and Treasurer. Sylvie has worked for many years in the field of education, and David as an environmental scientist and consultant: their garden is small but with an astonishing collection of plants and is hugely artistic. It lies just to the south of Whitstable, and with a distinctly mild microclimate, and for the plantsman is of no little fascination.

Here are a few pictures, and the day was not only a way of sharing our interests as a Group, but also to invite new members and discuss ideas for talks and events in the future. Our conclusions were various but did include a greater emphasis on displaying and discussing plants at meetings and the practical ways of growing alpines, as well as organising talks (possibly linked with the Spring AGS Show at Rainham) and aimed especially at gardeners who have not yet discovered this way of gardening. In addition our location makes it easy to organise visits to alpine and other gardens on the continent, and a planned tour to France in the summer of 2015 will help us gauge the interest that this might engender.

The smaller a garden is, the more artistic it is likely to become, and given a naturally artistic temperament the way plants are used can be very exciting. Small doesn't necessarily preclude growing larger plants and David and Sylvie's front garden, by late summer, is dominated by tall perennials and grasses, which contrast dramatically with the neighbours' lawns. This picture shows in the background rudbeckia and in the foreground Helianthus salicifolius (which the inimitable Bob Brown has likened to 'an Afghan Hound') and the umbelliferous shrub Bupleurum fruticosum.

For the entomologist the form of the flowers of this shrub is especially attractive to flies and beetles and it is long flowering right through summer into autumn, and equally attractive both in bud and as it sets seed - a superb plant for a sandy soil and sunny place.

This simple combination of grasses, crocosmia, agastache and verbena recalls the pictures I have shown earlier of the colourful 'meadow' in Elizabeth Cairns' garden, with a natural balance of flowers and foliage.

Move to the back garden and the planting becomes more intimate and special and includes a raised bed with some pretty interesting alpines. There are also plants which give you a double take - 'what is this?' - such as the shrub on the right as you enter, a species of Melaleuca and only really possible to grow outside in a mild maritime climate.

On the raised bed is red Scutellaria 'Texas Rose', blue Salvia namaensis, Cheilanthes tomentosa growing between blocks of tufa, and dittany - Origanum dictamnus - in the front corner: not all easy plants to overwinter outside but protected by the house and microclimate of the garden.

This bed also contains a thriving clump of Eucomis vandermerwei 'Octopus', which few gardeners can grow outdoors except in nearly frost-free regions. There is interesting variation in leaf spotting in this species and the second two pictures show seed raised plants kindly given to us by Darren Sleep, and very distinct from the commercial clone.

These smaller eucomis - and there are an increasing number of interesting hybrids - are delightful plants for the alpine house or bed and the Drakensberg endemic, E. schijffii, grows reliably outside in our sand bed. They are very late to emerge, adapted to dry winters and warm wet summers, and often don't appear until well into June, just when you begin to give up on them. As you can see from this picture they also set good seed which means that a rare plant like this can be readily maintained and distributed in cultivation, albeit slow to establish.

The artistic skill in a garden is not only in choosing a suitable spot for each plant but also combining them in ways that accentuate their form. These few examples show how Sylvie 'paints' with plants: a silver athyrium against the white bark of birch; a small flowered clematis clambering through a rare cut leaved form of elder ('Notcutt's Variety', very slow growing growing compared with more familair cultivars); tricyrtis on the cool shady side of the house; and a collection of the more restrained and natural forms of heucheras.

It was a most enjoyable afternoon with everyone bringing along food and drink, and a nice way of introducing our new season of talks, which start with two notable speakers in September (12th) and October (10th): Katie Price (who spoke at the 2014 AGM) on 'the Appalachians', and Christine Skelmersdale - who will be so well known to all keen gardeners, especially those who love the genus Narcissus, on 'species Peonies'. We can offer a warm welcome to any Kentish gardeners looking in: we meet at Lower Hardres just to the south of Canterbury (and full details, as for all AGS Groups, can be found on the Local Groups section of the website).

*****

Keen gardeners may also like to note that the renowned alpine plantsman, Harry Jans, will be speaking on 'Alpines Down Under' to the Mid Kent Group of the AGS in early September (5th), and anyone who has not heard him speak will be in for a real treat, and those who have, exactly the same!

(Apologies - Katie, of course, spoke at the 2013 AGM, for those who may be attending this year!)

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